Don’t give bass any lip — try a lipless crankbait instead

Bass that have recovered from the spawn and a ready to start feeding again will key in on the baitfish spawn in May, and a lipless crankbait is one lure that will catch them.
Bass that have recovered from the spawn and a ready to start feeding again will key in on the baitfish spawn in May, and a lipless crankbait is one lure that will catch them.

The baitfish spawn in May across Carolinas is the No. 1 chance to catch bass on a lipless bait

Plenty of lures that we use to target bass are associated with a certain season or period of time when they are most effective. You can certainly think of a handful: floating worms in April, a Shad Rap in March, a jig or a jerkbait in February, a Carolina-rigged lizard during the summer, a square-billed crankbait early in the spring, a medium-diving crankbait in the fall.

One bait that often gets pigeon-holed into the late-winter, early-spring prespawn is a lipless crankbait. A lot of the fishermen I know fish one in March because it’s so versatile. You can fish it deep or shallow, fast or slow, and it’s a real weapon against bass that are waiting to make that big move to the shallows. Ott Defoe, the Tennessee bass pro who won the Bassmaster Classic in his home state this past March, caught most of his fish in that tournament on a lipless bait.

But I’m here to tell you that if you put your lipless baits away after the bass spawn, you’re missing out on some great fishing. And the reason is the other spawns that follow the bass spawn.

In May, and on into June in a lot of our Carolina lakes, we’ll have blueback herring and shad spawning in shallow water. And that’s a perfect time to fish a lipless crankbait. My favorite is a Storm Arashi Vibe. In March, when most fishermen throw a lipless bait, you’re fishing reds, browns, oranges — crawfish colors. But in May, you need to be throwing your shad and blueback colors, your baitfish colors. I love to throw a lipless bait when the baitfish are spawning. I’ll throw it where I see them spawning and where I think they’re spawning.

I’m going to look in these kinds of places:

  • Flat points in less than 5 feet of water where blueback herring spawn.
  • Any place in shallow cover where shad spawn.
  • Steeper points with little bluff ends, but they don’t have to have rock.
  • Deeper areas where baitfish and bass will set up after the baitfish spawn. Little small channel swings in the 5- to 10-foot range.
  • Floating docks that are over water that’s a little bit deeper.
  • Submerged vegetation like hydrilla or milfoil, if you have any.

A big advantage of a lipless crankbait is that you can fish it close to the surface, a foot or 2 deep, by holding your rod tip up during the retrieve. Or you can let it sink down to 10 feet and keep it close to the bottom on your retrieve. You can even yo-yo it with your rod, raising the tip from 9 to 12 o’clock and riding it back down.

A very important part of fishing lipless crankbaits is the rod you use. It needs to be a crankbait rod with a parabolic action. I like to fish an Arashi Vibe on a rod that is a combination of fiberglass and graphite. I don’t want a stiff rod or a noodle. My preference is a 7- to 7 1/2-foot, medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops cranking rod and a reel spooled with 14- to 17-pound XPS fluorocarbon. I love the sensitivity of the fluorocarbon. There’s not as much stretch as in other lines, and we don’t mind it sinking a little bit.

This combination leads to higher hook-up ratio

With the combination of a rod that will bend and a line that won’t stretch gives you the ability to fight and land fish. One of the problems with lipless baits is that you’ll lose some of the fish you hook because you’re fishing a heavy bait. When they jump, then can get some leverage and throw it. With this combination, you can land a higher percentage of fish. Ott Defoe hardly lost any fish on a lipless bait when he won the Classic.

The other thing is, you can make long casts with this bait and this rod. Typically, you’re going to be making long casts when you’re fishing the flat points where herring spawn. You might be 40 or 50 yards off the point and still be sitting in 5 feet of water.

I pretty much stick with a half-ounce bait if I’m fishing from 1 to 10 feet deep. You can make it too complicated trying to switch to heavier or lighter baits. One thing I do like to do is change out the hooks that come on the bait to slightly larger hooks. I will replace the No. 4 trebles that come with the bait to No. 3 VMC hybrid hooks. I think the bigger hooks help when it comes to losing fewer fish.

So when the bass finish up spawning, don’t put your lipless crankbaits away. Pay close attention to when the baitfish in your local lake or reservoir spawn. Key in on them for a couple of weeks.And make sure you have a lipless bait tied on. The action can be fast and furious.